At its inaugural meeting, Jan. 14, the task force appointed to address concerns regarding the academic achievement of UC Berkeley’s student-athletes identified core topics and questions to be discussed this semester.
The formation of the Task Force on Academics and Athletics — made up of faculty members, current and former student-athletes, coaches and nonathlete students — was announced by Athletic Director Sandy Barbour in November after the NCAA report that revealed nationally low graduation rates for UC Berkeley’s football and men’s basketball programs.
During the meeting, which was held in California Hall, the task force discussed the level of respect student-athletes receive from their peers, the challenge of a student-athlete’s schedule and the pedagogical advantages of athletics, like memorization and time-management skills, as some of the topics regarding academic achievement, according to Margaret Conkey, task force chair and professor emerita of anthropology.
“We’re looking at how we can shine a light on those students who are able to major in molecular and cell biology and go on to vet school while winning a medal in swimming, but we also have to make sure to address the more negative experiences,” Conkey said. “Berkeley is about excellence — excellence in the classroom and excellence to the extent that it can be sustained on the athletic field.”
In addition to the 18 members of the task force, other campus community members, such as Chancellor Nicholas Dirks, Barbour, Faculty Athletic Representative Bob Jacobsen and Director of the Athletic Study Center Derek Van Rheenen, were present at the meeting. All spoke to what Dirks called the “shared responsibility” of the university to address the issue, according to Barbour.
Looking forward, some topics the task force intends to address include the student-athlete admissions policy, resource allocation and the recruitment process.
“My aspirations (as a task force member) are to fix what can be fixed and to get the gross misconceptions about admissions corrected,” said Richard Rhodes, associate dean of the College of Letters and Science. “We don’t admit dumb jocks.”
All members of the task force have been selected, with the exception of the second student representative, who the task force hopes will be a nonathlete involved with the ASUC, according to Conkey.
At their next meeting, Jan. 28, members of the task force will begin to form groups based on their individual expertise and interest. The task force will continue to meet every two weeks throughout the semester, later compiling a report with recommendations to deliver to Dirks by the end of June.
“I certainly hope this isn’t only about addressing the underperformance of two or three of our programs,” said Barbour. “Although it’s extremely important to get those rectified, we need to address the population overall to examine how we can be better every day.”